Artist: Panda Bear (Animal Collective)
Title: Young Prayer
Label: Paw Tracks
Catalogue Number: PAW2
Year of Release: 2004
The fact that there are nine untitled tracks on this somewhat mystifying solo effort from Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear, member of (current best band beginning with the letter A) Animal Collective) came as something of a surprise to me, as on the first listen through I just thought it was one long, slightly underwhelming piece.
And on further listens, I haven't really revised that judgment. I've read many other reviews now, the majority of which are enthusiastic, and talk about how the sparse guitar and anguished vocals are almost mystical. The Wire compares the songs to ethereal off-cuts of Brian Wilson's Smile, too "spectral" to be included on a mainstream release.
I think the back-story to the album influences people too much. If you know in advance that an album is about the death of a parent, recorded in the house in which said parent dies, and you are told it's an intensely personal and mystical record, then it's through that filter that you are going to interpret what you hear. Which makes sense, obviously. Generally speaking, it's how we work - without context, you'd just be subject to a meaningless barrage of sense-data.
The Pitchfork review says: "it's the kind of record that will have a profound impact on a small number of people, be ridiculed by many more, and never be heard at all by almost everybody".
But I've had a different response to the album, and I'll liken it to Brian Eno's ambient works. Because it's nearly impossible to make out the sparse lyrics so it's hard to get involved in the songs; because some of the silences in the songs are longer than the ones between the songs; because the howls that some people take to be anguished, I don't; because it all drifts along quite nicely in the background for half an hour or so; but mostly, I suspect, because I quite like being a contrary sod. If you like Discreet Music or Thursday Afternoon, you might like this.
None of that means that I don't like the album, I do. Untitled Track 5, the closer to Side A, and the only track to feature any percussion (mostly hand-claps), is great. I just don't connect to it in the way that other people seem to have. How much of that connection is empathy, and how much of it is pretension, I can only guess.
One other thing I would say in this album's favour is that I haven't come across many records recently that can only really be listened to from beginning to end. You would never just put track 7 on, say. And that fact will also ensure its continued obscurity as lots of people just don't do that any more, don't buy a whole album, or don't think they have the time to devote to listening to one from beginning to end. They are wrong, obviously, but that's what they do, and think.
Oh, and the Stylus Magazine review is worth a read.